18 June 2018

A Parent's Response to Grades

Kids are so sensitive to their parent's attitudes. They draw on them, including attitudes about failure - whether it's enhancing or debilitating. This has a huge impact on learning and wellbeing.

How do you respond when your son comes home with a 'D' in an assessment? What do you focus on - his ability? The grade?.... or, the process of learning itself?

Stanford University research suggests that worrying, pitying or comforting kids is not effective parenting. "Hey, you don't have to be the best at every subject!" (though well-meaning) is not a helpful response. Worrying sends the message that intelligence is something that is mostly fixed…and that even one instance of poor performance should be worrying. Children whose parents think failure is debilitating are more likely to think intelligence is fixed, that it's not so much a matter of grit and persistence, but "brightness". People who think talent is innate don't hustle quite as hard.

Parents who have the most constructive take on a failing grade focus on the process of learning itself, saying things like:

"So what have you learned from doing poorly?"

"What might you do differently next time?"


"Do you think it might be useful to ask a teacher for help?"

One of the most common obstacles to success I see with senior boys is procrastination. Sometimes this is a thinly veiled reluctance to 'have a go' unless assured of success. This affects even our academic high flyers.

Parents, educators - we all need to be careful to encourage real learning rather than providing opportunities for boys to validate their 'brilliance' by only attempting things they know they can succeed at. Be careful what you say…